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Talkability Henry van Dyke

Theme--On A Small, Useful Virtue

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"Talkable" is not a new adjective. But it needs a new definition, and the complement of a corresponding noun. I would fain set down on paper some observations and reflections which may serve to make its meaning clear, and render due praise to that most excellent quality in man or woman,--especially in anglers,--the small but useful virtue of TALKABILITY.

Robert Louis Stevenson uses the word "talkable" in one of his essays to denote a certain distinction among the possible subjects of human speech. There are some things, he says in effect, about which you can really talk; and there are other things about which you cannot properly talk at all, but only dispute, or harangue, or prose, or moralize, or chatter.

After mature consideration I have arrived at the opinion that this distinction among the themes of speech is an illusion. It does not exist. All subjects, "the foolish things of the world, and the weak things of the world, and base things of the world, yea, and things that are not," may provide matter for good talk, if only the right people are engaged in the enterprise. I know a man who can make a description of the weather as entertaining as a tune on the violin; and even on the threadbare theme of the waywardness of domestic servants, I have heard a discreet woman play the most diverting and instructive variations.

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No, the quality of talkability does not mark a distinction among things; it denotes a difference among people. It is not an attribute unequally distributed among material objects and abstract ideas. It is a virtue which belongs to the mind and moral character of certain persons. It is a reciprocal human quality; active as well as passive; a power of bestowing and receiving.

An amiable person is one who has a capacity for loving and being loved. An affable person is one who is ready to speak and to be spoken to,--as, for example, Milton's "affable archangel" Raphael; though it must be confessed that he laid the chief emphasis on the active side of his affability. A "clubable" person (to use a word which Dr. Samuel Johnson invented but did not put into his dictionary) is one who is fit for the familiar give and take of club-life. A talkable person, therefore, is one whose nature and disposition invite the easy interchange of thoughts and feelings, one in whose company it is a pleasure to talk or to be talked to.

Now this good quality of talkability is to be distinguished, very strictly and inflexibly, from the bad quality which imitates it and often brings it into discredit. I mean the vice of talkativeness. That is a selfish, one-sided, inharmonious affair, full of discomfort, and productive of most unchristian feelings.

You may observe the operations of this vice not only in human beings, but also in birds. All the birds in the bush can make some kind of a noise; and most of them like to do it; and some of them like it a great deal and do it very much. But it is not always for edification, nor are the most vociferous and garrulous birds commonly the most pleasing. A parrot, for instance, in your neighbour's back yard, in the summer time, when the windows are open, is not an aid to the development of Christian character. I knew a man who had to stay in the city all summer, and in the autumn was asked to describe the character and social standing of a new family that had moved into his neighbourhood. Were they "nice people," well-bred, intelligent, respectable? "Well," said he, "I don't know what your standards are, and would prefer not to say anything libellous; but I'll tell you in a word,--they are the kind of people that keep a parrot."

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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